Top 12 Anti-Access "Facts" And How To Respond To Them

January 2014 Powersport News Dave Halsey, NOHVCC contributing writer

(Dirt Toys ED-Here is some really good information from NOHVCC. We should try to spread this around as widely as possible.)

Ron Potter, recently retired after almost 40 years with the Minnesota DNR, is an NOHVCC consultant. Chris Gamache is chief supervisor of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails. Between the two of them, they've heard every possible "fact" those who are against motorized recreation have used in meetings to denounce OHV trails.

At the 2013 joint conference of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) and International OHV Administrators Association (INOHVAA), Potter and Gamache made a presentation titled "Dealing With Anti-Access `Facts' - Top 12 Comments Against OHVs." 

"If you've created a trail or riding area, you've probably heard most of these," Potter said. "These points aren't what you would take to argue with a group. They are things you would take to a county board meeting, for example. They will also help you arrive prepared to answer questions that may come up from anti-access folks and that you're going to need to respond to."

No. 1: Noise - Disturbance to neighbors, non-motorized users and hunters

Potter: "Noise is probably the No. 1 issue you're going to hear about. You can talk till you're blue in the face about manufacturer and EPA requirements, but until you have some hard facts it's just going to be your opinion against theirs. There are EPA sound level restrictions to your closest receptors. If this is really a major issue with your sight, and in most cases it will be, you may want to hire an acoustical engineer to do a study."

Gamache: "We had a Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O. 50 feet away, going 25 mph, that actually produced the exact same noise level on a decibel meter as a 35 foot wide stream through one of our state forests at a bridge crossing with a lot of rocks. Those two things produced the exact same level of noise but the perception of what people have as appropriate pitch or other things they have in their mind is extremely different. Noise is emotional more than science-based, so if you present the science it can help you."

No. 2: Value conflicts - OHVs don't belong on the natural landscape

Potter:  "This is emotional. You can't win this argument if you leave it at that level. You have to boil it down to `what's the real issue'? Is it the impact? What else is it? It's public land. Everybody has a right to be there. You don't have a right to destroy it, but as you go through the process you can show them that's not going to happen. You can co-exist but, again, it's a value and if you keep it at their level there is no winning."

No. 3: Impacts to "sensitive" natural resources

Potter: "First you have to define the "sensitive" thing that you're trying to protect. Then keep it reasonable. If it's nesting or a breeding season, yes, you may have to close the trails for a certain part of the season, or route around them. But to just say because of the sensitive item you can't have a trail system in the area, that's not a valid option. We've had proposals where there were some sensitive plants and they didn't want a trail within a mile of it. Yet there was a road within a block of it. You have to keep the playing field as level as possible."

Gamache: "There is science on a lot of these if you know how to go find it. We did three years of studies for a pilot trail for an ATV use on an existing gravel road and then two trails that would be upgraded. We've done macro-invertebrate studies in streams, and found there was negligible impact from the ATVs being introduced to that location. There are studies that show that a hiker has more impact to the wildlife than the rider."

No. 4: Illegal off-trail use - damages resources outside the trail corridor and greatly expands the impact

Potter: "Do not assume that the public is going to break the law. Assume they're going to follow the law. If you can give riders what they're looking for and enough of it, there is no reason to go off-trail."

Gamache: "The best way to combat illegal trails is with legal trails. If you give them a place to ride and experience they are looking for, the vast majority of riders will stop looking for themselves, that's what we're finding."

No. 5: Forest fragmentation 

Potter: "That's an emotional discussion. What is forest fragmentation? In a lot of cases, when you're building a 2-foot wide single track or even a 6-foot wide ATV trail, you're not opening up the canopy, you're not fragmenting the forest. There is science that will back this up. I have looked at a lot of studies and nobody seems to have that magic number of what "too dense" is. Don't be afraid to pull out the science. We keep our trails narrow because we like them narrow and also it reduces this fragmentation as far as opening the canopy and changing that forest setting."

No. 6: More trails mean more users and more impact 

Potter: "That's an opinion. We contend that if you put in more trails you spread the use out and the impact is less. But it's a tough one to win if you keep the argument at the emotional level. We've seen that, in a section of land, we have almost 30 miles of trail in there. The parking lot may be full but you may not encounter anybody else on the trail for hours. People don't ride steady for hours. They ride for a half hour or so and take a break. More trails mean more users but that doesn't mean there is going to be a greater impact on the resource."

No. 7: Soil compaction/soil erosion 

Potter: "We have many studies and published documents on how to put in sustainable trails. We don't run up the fall lines anymore. We see compaction/erosion issues when we're forced to use roads that are put in for timber management or forced to use a snowmobile trail. But if we're allowed to build the trails that we need for our activity, we can build them to be very sustainable and this is not an issue."

Gamache: "No matter who the user group is, you have an impact. It's only maintenance and appropriate signing of trails that will ever combat soil erosion and compaction. Somewhere in your arsenal, have a trail that an ATV has never been on, a heavily used hiking trail, maybe a national trail. We had a photograph of a trail where the erosion and the scouring was 6 feet deep, and I guarantee it's in a location where there has never been an ATV or trail bike. We kept that and we used it one time in a legislative hearing. Being able to show that everyone has an impact, especially those who think they have no impact, is a good way to go."

No. 8: Lack of enforcement in the forest 

Potter: "To those who say you can't get enough people to do the enforcement, they need to understand that the heavy arm of enforcement is the last resort. Enforcement is for the 10 percent of folks who don't quite get it. You don't need heavy saturation of enforcement people. It's setting up the education tool, having training, making sure they understand how they should ride and what's expected."

Gamache: "If you engineer the trail right, if you educate people on what your expectations are, enforcement is a piece of the solution, it's not `the' solution. There will never be enough officers on the highway to get the guy that just cut you off."

No. 9: People from the city will come

Potter: "This is about NIMBY: "not in my back yard." Folks may say nobody is going take care of the land like we are. But again, the easiest way to address this is having training. If it gets to be enough of an issue, it can be mandatory training. Make sure that people who come to ride are educated, so they know what's expected. Most people want to do the right thing. It's making sure they know what that is."

Gamache: "Our biggest issue in New Hampshire and Maine isn't the motorized users who, if they get hurt or lost in the woods, have a machine. It's a matter of pride to get themselves out. We're a big destination for hikers from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, heading for the White Mountain National Forest. Our epidemic today is cell phones and smart phones. They'll say, `I'm hurt, here's my location, come get me and drive me out.' A lot of them don't want to be educated. They just assume when they get there that we'll take care of them."

No. 10: OHV riders just want to tear it up 

Potter: "That's a stereotype. They come to have fun and they will have fun. So the key is to make sure that you're providing what they're looking for. Provide a range of opportunities. Most people don't like mud and will go around it. But there are some folks that want that, and we can provide it in a sustainable setting. Understand your riders, what they're looking for, provide that opportunity and they won't be tearing it up."

No. 11: OHV riders trespass and litter everywhere they go 

Potter: "This is a stereotype, and you'll find it where there are few riding trails available in a legal setting. If your staging area is nice and neat, organized, well structured, it sets the tone. The other riders out there will keep it clean."

No. 12: It's not a safe activity, don't encourage it, especially among youth 

Potter: "Every recreation activity has a certain amount of risk. What we've shown is that through training and the proper gear, this sport is as safe or safer than a lot of them. You need the training, especially for the youth. Be sure you have that in place."

Finally, a great tip: take your state legislators on a ride

Gamache: "We've had success with our Legislature by taking them four-wheeling. We didn't plan it, but a moose happened to run out on the side of the trail and stood there while they all drove by. That was the highlight of the tour and what it showed them was this thing wasn't afraid of us. We just changed our law in New Hampshire that said on state-owned trails, vehicles can have a maximum 50-inch width. We bumped it up to 62 inches. All the legislators saw it as a foot wider and a huge impact. And after they passed the bill, we took them riding. We lined up traditional ATVs and some side-by-sides. Everyone of them got in a side-by-side with someone else, and said we'd much rather ride in one of these. They're more comfortable, they're more stable, we can talk to each other. They said, `Chris, where are the vehicles we just passed the legislation at?' I said, "You're sitting in them.' `Oh what's the big deal?' Exactly."

Have a topic you need to research? The NOHVCC online library has more than 1,000 documents available for you to use to promote OHV trails and answer questions from agencies and adversaries. Check it out at 

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